Enactment of Article 23: HKJA Fears SAR’s Media Center Status, Freedoms, Could Be Put at Risk

Enactment of Article 23:
HKJA fears SAR’s media center status, freedoms, could be put at risk
        The Hong Kong Journalists Association views with regret the decision by the Government of the Hong Kong SAR to publish the consultation paper for the enactment of Basic Law Article 23. The HKJA has consistently held that there is no basis for rushing ahead with enactment, considering Hong Kong’s stable political environment and the absence of any threat to state security.
        Article 23 prohibits such acts as treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s government and the theft of state secrets. Secession and subversion are not considered crimes in Hong Kong and other common law jurisdictions. The introduction of these new concepts inevitably would adversely affect freedom of expression.
        The HKJA strongly believes that if the government insists on pushing ahead with enactment, then it should do so only in accordance with the Johannesburg Principles, which lay down guidelines for the creation of national security regulations that fully respect of the freedom of expression and the right to information. The principles stipulate that a restriction on such freedoms should take place only if the authorities can demonstrate that the expression at issue poses a serious threat to a legitimate national security interest. More particularly, Principle No. 6 states that there must be an intention to incite violence, a strong likelihood of violence and a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the risk of violence. However, under certain of the Security Bureau’s proposals, speech that is intended to incite violence form sufficient grounds for an offence, which would cast a shadow over peacefully expressed views that are intended to promote social change.
        Even worse, the simple fact of enactment would cause the public as well as the media to censor themselves. That in effect would dampen expression of views and could damage Hong Kong’s status as an international media center.
        Also worrying are the government’s suggestions to create new offenses of unauthorized and damaging disclosure of protected information, and vagueness surrounding what constitutes a seditious publication. The HKJA is concerned that these flaws in the legislation would create pitfalls for unwary journalists and further erode freedom of expression.
        The HKJA urges the authorities to seriously reconsider whether there is a pressing need for enactment of Article 23. Even if public opinion supports such enactment, the HKJA urges that it be done in accordance with No. 6 of the Johannesburg Principles to avoid any detrimental effect on the SAR’s basic rights.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Dr Frances D'Souza's Submission to the Security Bureau
The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information